1817 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

James Hogg

Francis Hodgson?, in Review of Hogg, Poetic Mirror; The Monthly Review NS 84 (December 1817) 357-58.



Few things are more difficult in composition than successful parody. Burlesque writings indeed, of all kinds, have been much more frequently attempted than well executed; and it is this repeated failure which has brought a discredit on the whole class of humorous poems. The local and temporary nature of such efforts of satire, as they are generally conducted, largely assists in consigning them to a speedy oblivion, or comparative neglect: but it is not necessary that humour should be levelled at only transient follies, or confined to the exposure of some petty aberration from the rules of good taste. It may happily be used as a corrective of important and radical errors in literature; and it may bring back poetry to its only pure and classical standard, by placing the deviations from that standard in so ridiculous a light as to preclude the possibility of their continuing to mislead the young, or perplex the simple.

Such an excellent effect, we think, may be produced by the very meritorious little work before us; which adopts every legitimate and rational method of disenchanting the minds of the devoted admirers of those poets, of the modern school, who seem to think that the possession of acknowledged genius is a perfect dispensation from any regard to common sense, or the established language of poetry, or the most elementary rules of grammar. Indeed, the author of the Poetic Mirror, whoever he may be, has deserved well of all lovers of sensible and elegant versification; for he has contributed, in many ways, to lower the tone of nonsensical enthusiasm in which the votaries of these false prophets extol the objects of their idolatry. In the first place, he has shewn the truth of the following theory, — a theory which we have ever maintained, and often ventured to maintain against the pride and petulance of its opposers, — that there is not one of the numerous modern styles of poetry which may not be so successfully imitated as to excite doubts between the original and the copy, by a person gifted with the merest knack of versifying, and having also at command the flow of words without ideas which forms the basis of our popular eloquence. We are far from thinking so meanly, as this character would imply, of the Rejected Addresses, if they be instanced; and yet without any very decided powers of original composition, (properly so called,) an author may write in a variety of styles which are themselves defective in the principles of good taste, and write so like the greatest masters of any of those styles as to be mistaken for them. We go a step farther in our estimate of the Poetic Mirror: we contend that, in every requisite of the poetical character, in imagination, in arrangement, in diction, in harmony, the author has shewn himself superior to most of those whom he has imitated; and, with the exception of that little judicious heightening of the peculiarities of his prototypes which is essential to burlesque, he has written verses of which most of the bards in question might vainly languish to be the proprietors.